As the United States felt the toll of another world war, Morton Eustis left the comforts of home to serve his country. Receiving his Army Air Corps commission in 1942, he was stationed in North Africa doing primarily desk work. However, Morton continued to push for combat roles, knowing that at age 36, he had very much surpassed the 28-year mark typically admitted into the infantry. What drove Morton to strive for combat?
Morton came from a well-connected family. His grandfather was former Vice President Levi P. Morton of New York. His father, William Corcoran Eustis, served as personal secretary to General Pershing during World War I. One would think he had all the connections necessary to keep him out of harms way, but Morton chose to join the fray. Under George Patton’s 2nd Armored Division, known as, “Hell on Wheels”, Morton got his wish.
From the front of a tank, no doubt, Morton’s memories of pleasant times spent in the Virginia countryside at Oatlands grew more precious. In his letters home, he recounts swimming in the pool and playing the organ at the old abandoned church. In one letter, he paints a vivid picture of fitting 162 men into a space the size of the drawing room at Oatlands!
June 6, 1944 marks the D-Day invasion, when over 156,000 American, British, and Canadian troops executed a critical turning point for the war. After participating in the Sicilian campaign, Morton was sent to England for cross-channel training—one week after D-Day—and was immediately thrown in to defend the Cotentin Peninsula.
Morton participated in the liberation of Avranches in July of 1944. As the Division progressed, they made their way to Domfront, France where, on August 13, 1944, Morton was killed by enemy fire. In his pocket, a casual photograph of the President, with the inscription on the back that read, “From his old friend Franklin Roosevelt.”
Among his commendations, Morton Eustis is the recipient of a Silver Star medal and a Purple Heart. Today, a memorial stands near where Morton fell while leading his platoon between St. Mars and Domfront, France. This tribute to the French resistance has a plaque that reads, “To American Lt. Eustis. Killed in the liberty of the people.” Morton was buried in Normandy and there is a cenotaph in his memory at Oak Hill Cemetery, in Washington D.C. that reads, “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.”